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Last Updated: Friday, 11 February, 2005, 16:46 GMT
Togo: Africa's democratic test case
Faure Gnassingbe at his inauguration
Faure Gnassingbe has hinted at elections
Togo, a tiny country of just five million people, is becoming a test case of Africa's commitment to democracy.

Continental heavyweights Nigeria and South Africa have both condemned the constitutional changes which saw Faure Gnassingbe inherit the presidency following his father's death.

Both the African Union and the West African regional body, Ecowas, are threatening to impose sanctions - which would be an unprecedented step on a continent where leaders generally feel strong solidarity.

The European Union (EU), the United States and France, which was close to the former regime of Eyadema Gnassingbe, have all backed Africa's strong stance.

Togo's giant neighbour Nigeria seems particularly upset.

President Olusegun Obasanjo said: "All African leaders should not accept what has happened in that country until there is a democratic transition."

And after what seems to be a mix-up over a plane carrying some of Mr Obasanjo's officials, he has said he will recall his ambassador to Togo.

Poor and tiny

Mr Obasanjo is one of the prime movers behind the latest African development plan, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad).

This is based on Africa improving its governance, in return for more western aid and better terms of trade.

If they do go on the streets, one can expect a pretty robust show of force from Togo's army
Patrick Smith
Africa Confidential
Nepad has been called into question because of African backing for Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.

If Africa cannot ensure that rules are respected in poor and tiny Togo, cynics will say there is little hope for the rest of the continent.

And if donors take that view, the prospect of large dollops of aid and debt relief will vanish over the horizon.

However, Togo remains unbowed and it remains to be seen what Africa's leaders can do to ensure that presidential elections are held, as they insist.


There has been much talk of sanctions but no details on whether these would stop trade to Togo or be targeted at Mr Faure and his associates.

Togo shares the CFA currency with several neighbours and has signed a regional agreement guaranteeing the free circulation of people and goods, making trade sanctions hard to enforce.

Togolese soldiers
Togo's army remains loyal to Eyadema - and his son
The opposition does not back the idea of trade sanctions, which would hurt ordinary people.

Togo's political elite has already proved adept at deflecting criticism.

In the wake of international demands to respect the constitution, parliament called an emergency session to amend it.

Parliamentary speaker Fambare Natchaba Ouattara had been next in line but the army and the ruling party did not want him to take over, so they closed the borders while he was abroad and replaced him with Mr Faure.

The constitution also stated that elections should be held within two months of a president's death, so parliament, dominated by the ruling Togo People's Rally (RPT) voted to delete that article and allow Mr Faure to inherit his father's term of office, which runs until 2008.

Communications Minister Pitang Tchalla strongly denies this amounts to a military coup, as some have charged.

"How long do you expect us to wait when there is a power vacuum at the summit of the state?" he asked.

One European diplomat seemed to imply that this neat trick might be accepted. "It is a political manoeuvre that has not violated the constitution. One might feel manipulated but it is in within the lines of the constitution," he told Reuters news agency.


If criticism remains strong, Mr Faure and his allies could take the next step to legitimise his grip on power and hold elections - as several African coup-makers have done.

Shortly after parliament voted to change the constitution, Mr Faure hinted that elections could be held soon:

Gnassingbe Eyadema playing petanque
Gnassingbe Eyadema playing petanque - he was a close French ally
"Togo is engaged without reserve in the democratic process, which I will pursue to its logical conclusion," he said.

But such promises do not wash with the opposition, who say that previous polls were rigged.

Veteran opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio agrees that the original 60-day timeframe was too short for "free and fair" elections.

In 1993, huge demonstrations were held following what the opposition felt were rigged elections.

Amnesty International says that hundreds died when the army put down the protests.

Patrick Smith, editor of the journal Africa Confidential, says that the army, which has been key in the move to install Mr Faure, would take similar action now.

"If they do go on the streets, one can expect a pretty robust show of force from Togo's army," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Any potential demonstrators may be too afraid to cause much trouble.

'Personal friend'

The army has been transformed from a rag-tag bunch when Mr Eyadema came to power to a well-organised, well-equipped modern fighting force, and it remains fiercely loyal to him - and now his son, says the BBC's Ebow Godwin in Lome.

While Togo could be a test case for Africa, France may play a key role in Togo's immediate future, as it possesses the carrot of aid, as well as the possible stick of the soldiers it has based in Togo. Its troops have already been put on alert.

But some believe that France's position is not entirely clear.

Patrick Smith says that France and the Eyadema regime had close financial ties and so France is unlikely to insist on elections.

French President Jacques Chirac mourned as "a personal friend" Eyadema, who ruled with an iron fist to earn the title of Africa's longest-serving leader.

But Mr Chirac also urged "Togolese political forces to maintain strict respect for the constitution".

However, Togo's leaders would now say they have strictly respected the law.


The EU cut off aid to Togo in the aftermath of the 1993 elections but before Eyadema's death, negotiations were underway to resume aid if electoral reforms were implemented.

The prospect of restoring aid gives the EU considerable leverage over Togo and in relatively obscure, French-speaking African countries, such as Togo, France's voice often dominates EU policy.

If France does back up Africa's tough words, Togo may indeed have little choice but to undo its constitutional changes and hold presidential elections.

But if France does indeed remain loyal to the son of its "friend", that would certainly make Mr Faure feel he could ignore the criticism of his neighbours.

Or at the very least, ensure that the outcome of any elections was never in doubt, which would hardly be a novelty in the region.

How African states are reacting to changes in Togo

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